The paradox of new traditional confucian economics in the two koreas

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J. Barkley Rosser, Jr.

James Madison University

Marina V. Rosser

James Madison University

May, 2014


This paper considers Confucian influence in the economic systems of North and South Korea within the context of the context of the new traditional economy, introduced by the authors initially in 1996. Such an economy seeks to be modern technologically and in other ways, but also is embedded to some extent within a traditional socio-cultural tradition, usually tried to a traditional religion. In the case of the two Koreas, they both come from a strong Confucian tradition even though their current systems are very different, with the North Korean the purest remaining command socialist system in the world, while the much better performing South Korean one is mostly market capitalist, although with a history of considerable amounts of indicative planning. Both officially reject Confucianism as an official ideology, but both show substantial Confucian influence, particularly emphasis on the importance of education and the role of the family, although in South Korea this is more through family leadership in the chaebol corporations whereas in North Korea it is through the dynastic leadership. However, they differ on other aspects, with North Korea emphasizing certain aspects not aiding economic growth such as an anti-mercantile attitude and isolationism with its juche policy of self-reliance.

JEL Codes: P, O

Acknowledgements: We thank Young Bak Choi, Woosik Moon, Hee Jwa Sung, Chong Yoon, and two anonymous referees for useful comments. None of these should be held responsible for remaining errors or misinterpretations.

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